Summarizing and correcting the GC content bias in high-throughput sequencing

Yuval Benjamini*, Terence P. Speed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

583 Scopus citations


GC content bias describes the dependence between fragment count (read coverage) and GC content found in Illumina sequencing data. This bias can dominate the signal of interest for analyses that focus on measuring fragment abundance within a genome, such as copy number estimation (DNA-seq). The bias is not consistent between samples; and there is no consensus as to the best methods to remove it in a single sample. We analyze regularities in the GC bias patterns, and find a compact description for this unimodal curve family. It is the GC content of the full DNA fragment, not only the sequenced read, that most influences fragment count. This GC effect is unimodal: both GC-rich fragments and AT-rich fragments are underrepresented in the sequencing results. This empirical evidence strengthens the hypothesis that PCR is the most important cause of the GC bias. We propose a model that produces predictions at the base pair level, allowing strand-specific GC-effect correction regardless of the downstream smoothing or binning. These GC modeling considerations can inform other high-throughput sequencing analyses such as ChIP-seq and RNA-seq.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)e72
JournalNucleic Acids Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
National Institutes of Health (grant number 3U24CA143799-02S1 to Y.B.). National Science Foundation VIGRE Graduate Fellowship. National Institutes of Health (grant number 5R01 GM083084-03 to T.P.S.). Funding for open access charge: National Institutes of Health (grant 5R01 GM083084-03).


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